Drayer: Breaking down what stands between Mariners and a wild card spot
As it turns out, if you are a Mariners fan then meaningful September baseball is not for the weak of heart.
In a year full of seemingly endless “here we go again” moments, one would think some sort of immunity had been built up to the emotional swings that come with the twists and turns the season has taken in short bursts from start to finish – but no, that’s not the ride this 2021 team has taken us on. And to be clear, the “us” are those who follow the team. The team itself, well, the skipper summed it up perhaps appropriately following the team’s latest “must-win” game Wednesday in Houston.
“We have a lot of goldfish. Guys with very short memories,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said, borrowing a line from one of his favorite fictional characters, Ted Lasso.
Never mind “Two outs, so what?” This squad is just flat-out “So what?”
Blown save and ensuing loss the night before by the top reliever who has been nails all season? So what?
Ability to hit with RISP suddenly MIA? So what?
Blowout loss? So what?
Lose half your rotation and the reigning Rookie of the Year? So what?
Blind umpires? So what?
Unpopular trade of popular player? Er, move on.
Young players struggling to find their way? So what?
Heck, even COVID at various points of this season – so what?
Run differential – do you even have to ask? Servais doesn’t.
“The will to win that this team has is so unique,” he said. “I don’t know that I have ever been on a team that is just so driven to win as this team is. I don’t know how we do it some days, but we find a way.”
Earlier this week I was asked on 710 ESPN Seattle what the Mariners needed to do to stay in the hunt for a postseason berth. I think the answer took the host by surprise in its brevity and simplicity:
“They need to pitch and they need to hit.”
That’s where we are. It’s not a matter of improving in a particular statistical area or any one player stepping up. Their wins have been total team efforts all season long with different heroes along the way. In Wednesday’s 8-5 win over the Astros, that hero was José Marmolejos, which should have been a surprise to absolutely nobody. Why? Because he’s on the roster. This is how they have done it. If they are to achieve their goal and make the postseason, this is how it will be done.
They will also need some help. With 22 games remaining, they are 2.5 games out of the second American League wild card spot, which for the moment is held by the Yankees. And don’t forget about the Blue Jays, who are of ahead of Seattle at just 1.5 games back of New York. The only other team with a real – very real, actually – shot at this is Oakland, which is a game behind the Mariners.
On the Mariners pregame show, we have done several roundtables taking a look at the schedules and plotting a possible course for the postseason. The landscape has been ever-changing and the question of “Who do we want to win?” as tough as ever to answer. Trends, situations and remaining schedules give a somewhat better picture.
We will keep the A’s out of this because the Mariners have seven games against them coming up, making them a more controllable situation. Otherwise, let’s take a look.
The Yankees (78-61) were bounced out of the first wild card spot Wednesday by the 80-62 Red Sox. Both teams have had serious issues in the past week. Boston is dealing with numerous players on the COVID IL, and the Yankees lost their top leverage reliever Jonathan Loasiga and possibly ace Gerrit Cole, who came out of Tuesday’s start with hamstring tightness.
Since a 13-game winning streak, the Yankees have lost nine of their last 11 games with the offense putting up a slash line of .206/.275/.313 and a wRC+ of 64. Yes, that’s the Yankees I’m talking about. For reference, the Mariners have slashed .224/.316/.350 with a wRC+ of 91 over that time. Now, the Yankees have an offense stacked with fearsome hitters and at any time could turn back into the Yankees, but that’s not exactly playing in their favor as there’s not much time left.
Boston has fared marginally better, going 5-5 in its last 10 games, and the Blue Jays (76-62) have been cruising, currently owning the longest winning streak in baseball at seven. They are undefeated in September, outscoring their opponents 53-26. Their offensive numbers this month rank second only to the Astros.
A look at those three teams’ schedules and who they face down the stretch:
• The Yankees have games remaining against the Blue Jays, Mets, Orioles, Indians, Rangers, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays.
• Boston will face the White Sox, Mariners, Orioles, Mets, Yankees, Orioles, and Nationals.
• Toronto has the Rays, Twins Rays, Twins, Yankees and Orioles coming up.
• The Red Sox appear to have the easiest schedule with nine of their final games coming against the Orioles (45-93) and Nationals (58-81). The AL Central-leading White Sox (80-59) should provide a challenge as should the Yankees if they get back to their winning ways, but otherwise Boston misses the Blue Jays and Rays, who hold the second-best record in baseball at 88-52. The Mariners open a critical series against Boston on Monday.
• The Yankees get breaks with series against the Orioles, Indians (68-69) and Rangers (51-88) coming up. Before that, the Subway Series with the Mets (70-70) where anything can happen. Their final week will be particularly tough with games against Boston and Toronto.
• The Blue Jays are playing good baseball and are currently the hottest team among the contenders, but with six games remaining against the Rays, it is far too soon to punch their dance card. If the Mariners are still in it the final week of the season, there is a good chance they will be big Jays fans rooting them on to beat the Yankees. Otherwise, it would appear the biggest help could come from the Rays, a team with oh so many familiar faces.
Of course, the biggest factor in the Mariners making or not making the playoffs will be the Mariners themselves. They will need to continue to be goldfish and play their best find-a-way, so-what, one-run, extra-innings, goldfish baseball. If you haven’t embraced it yet, now would be a good time.
What’s next for the Mariners
The Mariners take Thursday off before beginning a six-game homestand at T-Mobile Park with a 7:10 p.m. game Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks (45-95), who they swept last weekend in Phoenix. Coverage on 710 ESPN Seattle begins with the pregame show at 6 p.m. After three games with Arizona, the M’s start another three-game set against Boston at 7:10 p.m. Monday.